Growing up in England, tea meant English breakfast tea. Any other sort of tea was unusual and exotic, and not considered a proper cuppa. Earl Grey was about as different as it got until green tea came into fashion a few years ago among the super-food consuming health concious. So what I’m about to say next, as a Brit, is a bit awkward as we drink a hell of a lot of tea as a nation. I don’t like English breakfast tea (or strawberries whilst I’m confessing and I’m from Wimbledon), which I assumed meant that I didn’t like tea.
Instead I was a coffee drinker – taking after my mother I became addicted to the stuff since starting university. Five cups a day probably isn’t healthy, even if you’ve switched to decaf for the last three. When it came to tea on the other hand I didn’t even know how to make a proper cup of tea until I started going out with my boyfriend, and only then because he’s a right grump if he hasn’t had his morning tea (and also because I’m nice).
Being in Hong Kong has changed all that and I am now discovering a whole world of tea. First I was introduced to green tea as it usually comes free with the food when you go for Dim Sum. Then I discovered Jasmine tea when I was across the border, in mainland China. In Taiwan, where they are probably the most obsessed with tea, we went to tea shops with huge ranges of different teas. Matt was ecstatic about the fact that you could get green tea to go, whilst I was busy just trying to comprehend all the different types and flavours. Unlike me he knows his tea. Whereas I was still discovering the differences between green, oolong, pu’er and white tea, he orders his favourite types of green tea online from China to the UK (an enthusiast or merely pretentious, I’ll leave you to decide).
Back here in Hong Kong, a little British tea shop called Shortbread has been the main spot for my discovery of new and creative, if perhaps slightly unconventional, tea flavours. I was lured in by the promise of a proper sausage sandwich (not easy to come by in Hong Kong) and although it was probably the best sausage sandwich of my life, it is their tea which I now consume on a daily basis. If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to regular trips to the Peninsula, try Shortbread in Wellington street for some home made cake or afternoon tea. I was also impressed that they create their tea blends themselves, as the owner was discussing with me the new ideas he had for future blends and I was pretty chuffed when he seemed to think that me, a newbie to the world of tea, might know a thing or two on the subject. You can have a smell of all the teas before you try them and it’s left me looking forward to giving a couple more a try, including the Ginger and Whiskey blend. So far I have tasted: Totally Tropical, Rhubarb Fool and Highland Toffee. I have just bought my third pack of Highland Toffee and I think I am addicted – it’s a black tea infused with toffee flavours, real toffee pieces and a sprig of heather.
I haven’t given up on coffee but I’m down to about one or two a day now, 2-3 toffee teas, the occasional jasmine tea and a spiced apple and camomile tea in the evening. I’ve gone from never drinking tea to now almost always drinking loose leaf, which I like to think makes me a sophisticated tea drinker. I even have a nice purple clay tea pot from Taiwan, which apparently is supposed to make better tasting tea. This level of caffeine consumption probably isn’t normal or healthy, but unlike coffee tea is supposed to be good for me right?